ELECTIONS: Lutfur Rahman back in the ring for new Aspire party manifesto in Tower Hamlets vote for mayor
PUBLISHED: 21:44 14 April 2018 | UPDATED: 08:12 16 April 2018
Picture: Mike Brooke
A defiant ex-Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman—banned from office since 2015 for corruption—has defended his record while in power on his return to politics in the run-up to next month's council elections.
He is the rallying cry of the new Aspire party which took over from his now-deregistered Tower Hamlets First party which controlled the town hall’s £1.2 billion budget before the High Court overturned the corrupt 2014 election that returned him to office.
The former lawyer was backing the party’s manifesto in Whitechapel last night with his former deputy mayor Ohid Ahmed running for mayor on May 3 in his place.
“There was a challenge when I was elected to tackle overcrowding and homelessness,” he told the audience of party candidates.
“I wanted to find £20m to buy back ex-council housing. We were told it can’t be done, but Ohed Ahmed found money and we bought back 250 homes which benefitted 1,200 families.”
Lutfur spoke of trying to raise £20m to pay for social housing without going through the elected council.
“I didn’t devolve my power as the executive mayor to anyone,” he revealed. “I kept the power to myself like the current mayor has.”
But this involved trying to sell off Henry Moore’s treasured Old Flo sculpture originally gifted to the people of London’s East End—which led to a national outcry and Rahman’s planned auction being halted in the High Court.
The new party promises a homelessness fund out of council tax to solve the East End’s chronic housing shortage.
“You don’t have to be a brain scientist to deliver 10,000 homes,” he insisted. “There are a large number of families who are severely overcrowded and need to be helped. This will be done with the homeless fund by continuing the legacy we left behind—Inshala (if Allah wills it).”
Aspire has its power base in the East End’s large Muslim population, some of its speakers at last night’s manifesto launch punctuating their speeches with the “Inshala” reference.
Its 45 candidates are fighting for every seat on Tower Hamlets Council while veteran Cllr Ahmed—a councillor since 2002, first for Labour, then joining Rahman—challenges Labour’s John Biggs and five others for the Mayor’s office.
His manifesto is to tackle the housing crisis if he wins at the polls. He pledged: “We will build 10,000 affordable houses by 2026 using council-owned land. I will make sure that nobody lives on the street by 2022 by establishing a mayor’s homeless fund. If I be elected I will donate 15pc of my salary to the homeless.”
He promises to turn the clock back to Rahman’s policy on free school meals, reintroducing the education maintenance allowance and 1,500 university bursaries, while also pledging affordable child provision and opening more youth centres.
“I will create 10,000 new jobs and support small businesses including taxi and minicab drivers,” he adds. “I will pay for more police, start an out-of-hours coroners’ service and free home care for all elderly people—that’s my manifesto.”
Tower Hamlets has “taken a lot of stick”, he acknowledged. But much of the “stick” came from the government which sent in commissioners to take over the council’s mismanaged budget under Rahman.
Aspire doesn’t brush off its associations with the corrupt administration, but defends it.
Candidates are campaigning under the new party banner to regain control of the council after three years in opposition to Labour.
Labour’s former local chair Lillian Collins, who defected to Rahman and has emerged as Aspire party’s secretary general, told its candidates: “We’ve got this campaign off the ground among all the things that have not been in our favour. People would give us the ‘wind up’, as we call it in the East End, so that we would blow our temper—but stay calm.”
Rahman was asked by the East London Advertiser if he would be back running for the council after 2020 when his ban from holding office ends.
He “may not survive” that long, he mused. But the defiant, rousing orator displayed the tough exterior of a fighter planning to re-enter the ring when his High Court disqualification is over.